Don’t bother asking Paul Benjamin about the headliners at the Bradenton Blues Festival. The way he looks at it, there are no headliners. Or, rather, the entire lineup is headliners.
“I think the whole lineup is strong,” Benjamin said. “Ronny Baker Brooks, Lone Star Review has two great guitarists, Victor Wainwright has two or three Blues Music Awards, Jason Ricci has a Blues Music Award for best harmonica player. I think overall, from A to Z, it’s a really strong lineup.”
Benjamin is a major figure in the national blues scene who produces festivals all over the country. He’s has secured the talents for the Bradenton Blues Festival since its beginning.
The fifth annual Bradenton Blues Festival is scheduled for Saturday on the Riverwalk.
The schedule goes like this: 11 a.m., Slam Allen Band; 12:15 p.m., Sugar Ray and the Blue Tones; 1:30 p.m. Larry McCray; 2:45 p.m., Jason Ricci; 4 p.m. Victor Wainwright & the Wildroots; 5:15 p.m., the Golden State/Lone Star Revue and 6:45 p.m. Ronnie Baker Brooks. Ilana Katz Katz plays between sets.
“The blues is such wide-ranging music,” Benjamin said. “What I try to do in all the festivals I do is to have all kinds of blues. So if you like guitar, Lone Star Review is your headliner. If you’re into harmonica, Jason Ricci is your headliner.”
Despite his protestations, a lot of people will consider Ronnie Baker Brooks the headliner, since he’s playing last, and playing a longer set than others.
“It’s an honor, don’t get me wrong, but it really doesn’t matter where they put me,” Brooks said in a phone interview from his Chicago home. “I’m just happy to be coming down and seeing my friends and playing in sunny Florida.”
Brooks has the credentials to be considered the headliner at just about any blues festival. He comes from a well-known blues family. His father is the great Chicago blues man Lonnie Brooks and his brother is blues guitarist Wayne Baker Brooks.
Brooks has just finished touring with Billy Branch, who played the Bradenton festival a couple of years ago. They talked about the Bradenton Blues Festival, and Branch said he loved it. That made Brooks even more excited about playing here.
Brooks, Branch and others were touring to promote “Way Down Inside,” a Willie Dixon tribute album that has just been released.
Bradenton fans will hear some of those songs, along with songs from “Times Have Changed,” Brooks’ new album slated to come out Jan. 20.
One indication of Brooks’ standing in the musical world is the array of legendary performers who worked with him on “Times Have Changed.” Among them are drummer Steve Jordan, who also produced the album, keyboard player and vocalist Felix Cavaliere from the Rascals, the late blues legend Bobby Blue Bland and Steve Cropper from the Booker T. and the M.G.s and the Blues Brothers.
But Brooks is far from the only heavyweight on the blues festival bill. The Golden State/Lone Star Revue is a blues supergroup that features Grammy nominee Mark Hummel on harp and vocal, Little Charlie Baty, the guitarist who used to lead the Nightcats, bassist R.W. Grigsby, guitarist Texans Anson Funderburgh and famed Austin drummer Wes Starr.
This is the fifth year for the Bradenton Blues Festival, and the first without a female artist performing in the traditional headline spot.
Benjamin said that he tries not to book any of the same acts at any festival within five years, so thus far there have been no return performers.
“Next year, you might see one or two of the bands from the first year coming back,” he said.
Details: 11 a.m. Dec. 3, Bradenton Riverwalk, 452 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. $30 general, $10 children ages 4-12, children ages 4 and under free, $75 front-of-stage reserved seats. There will be food and drink available for purchase. bradentonbluesfestival.org.
Blues Festival weekend
Saturday’s Bradenton Blues Festival is the big event, but there’s a whole weekend of blues ahead for Bradenton. Here are some of the events coming up.
6 p.m. Dec. 2: Blues Appetizer Concert with Ari and the Alibis and Damon Fowler, Riverwalk Pavilion, 452 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. bradentonbluesfestival.org.
7 p.m. Dec. 2: Deja Blues, a benefit for the Women’s Resource Center, with music from Bradenton Blues Festival artist Larry McCray. The Brickyard behind O’Brick’s Irish Pub and Martini Bar, 427 12th St. W, Bradenton. $150. 941-747-6797, wrcmanatee.org.
10 a.m. Dec. 4: Blues Brunch, Marriott Riverfront, 100 Riverfront Drive W, Bradenton. SOLD OUT. bradentonbluesfestival.org.